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Live Reporting

By Iain McDowell and Robin Sheeran

All times stated are UK

  1. That's all for today...

    After spending five days in the hotseat at the RHI Inquiry, Arlene Foster's evidence is at an end.

    But the inquiry has a big week ahead with plenty to come from some of those who were closest to the former first minister.

    Stormont's Parliament Buildings

    Tomorrow, two former senior DUP advisers - John Robinson and Stephen Brimstone - will have a say.

    We'll bring you all of the action from 09:45 so do join us then.

    Bye for now!

  2. What happened today at the RHI Inquiry?

    BBC News NI

    The DUP leader Arlene Foster said that Jonathan Bell's interview with the BBC's Stephen Nolan about the RHI scandal directly led to the collapse of Northern Ireland's political institutions.

    She said that her successor as Stormont's enterprise minister had pressed a "nuclear button" by going public with claims that DUP advisers delayed plans to shut the flawed energy scheme as its budget spiraled out of control.

    Arlene Foster and Jonathan Bell

    Mrs Foster told the inquiry that "paranoia set in with Jonathan" when he felt the party was trying to blame him for the debacle.

    That prompted him take a "route with Stephen Nolan which caused the downfall of the executive", she claimed.

  3. 'Issues need to be addressed for good governance in NI'

    Several issues about governance in Northern Ireland need to be addressed in the wake of the RHI scandal, says Arlene Foster.

    Among them are the roles of ministerial advisers and the importance of minuting meetings between civil servant and ministers.

    Arlene Foster

    While there is a "general view" about advisers, says the DUP leader, she doesn't believe government can work without them.

    But she also says that "personal relationships" between ministers, advisers and others were "part of the difficulty... in the overall picture".

  4. 'RHI affair has left public disillusioned with NI politics'

    People are "very disillusioned and alienated" with politics in the absence of devolution in Northern Ireland, says the former first minister.

    Part of the inquiry's terms of reference is "to restore public confidence in the workings of government", notes David Scoffield QC as he rounds off his questioning of Arlene Foster.

    When that's put to the DUP leader, she accepts that the RHI affair has damaged public confidence.

    Martin McGuinness

    She says that after Jonathan Bell's interview with the BBC's Stephen Nolan, Sinn Féin "took a view that this was an opportunity to take the assembly down".

    She says Martin McGuinness (above) rang her from London where he was having medical tests to ask her to step aside and half an hour later his party put out a press release to the same effect.

    "I felt we were then on a trajectory out of the executive and the assembly and so it was to be."

  5. 'My speech to MLAs about RHI scandal was not untruthful'

    The DUP was "in crisis-management mode" when Arlene Foster went to the Northern Ireland Assembly to give her statement about the RHI debacle on 19 December 2016.

    On a farcical day at Stormont, MLAs from every party except hers walked out when she rose to say that she would not resign and would resist what she described as her opponents' "fevered quest" to build her "political gallows" - watch the video below for a reminder of what happened.

    Mrs Foster's speech on that day was written by her senior adviser Richard Bullick.

    Video content

    Video caption: RHI at Stormont - in 60 seconds

    In it, she said the "evidence was clear" that Jonathan Bell had not been overruled by DUP advisers in relation to cost controls or the closure of the RHI scheme and the "bottom line" was that the decisions were his.

    Asked if she thinks she was "sufficiently candid", Mrs Foster says: "Yes, I do, given the information that was available to me at the time."

    It was "difficult" to conduct an investigation into the full details in such a short time, she claims, adding that the speech isn't "untruthful" and that without evidence the DUP didn't want to publicly point a finger at anyone.

  6. 'I didn't see DUP advisers' consultation as hindering cost controls'

    In her interview with the BBC's Stephen Nolan in December 2016, Arlene Foster was asked if she knew why there was a delay in implementing cost controls in the RHI scheme - she replied that she had "no idea".

    But that answer prompted a reaction from Dr Andrew McCormick, the top senior civil servant at DETI, which was the department responsible for the energy scheme.

    Arlene Foster

    He sent a text to senior DUP adviser Richard Bullick saying it was "difficult to understand why she said she had no idea" why the cost controls were delayed.

    That was because he'd discussed "extensively" with Mrs Foster's DUP advisers that he'd been told that "others in the party wanted it kept open".

    Mrs Foster says she only became aware of Dr McCormick's "belief" that DUP adviser Dr Andrew Crawford was the "instigator" of the delay to cost controls after she gave her interview to Mr Nolan.

  7. 'Bell was passenger when he was Stormont minister'

    The RHI Inquiry

    Arlene Foster is withering in her assessment of Jonathan Bell's actions as enterprise minister in the summer of 2015, describing him as a "passenger".

    She says the poor relationship between him and his adviser "meant that they were not communicating in the way they should have been".

  8. 'Bell had to take what was coming to him'

    Jonathan Bell "had to take what was coming to him" after making his allegations about the RHI scandal to the BBC's Stephen Nolan, says Arlene Foster.

    The interview had "caused great uncertainty in relation to devolution", she claims.

    Burning wood pellets

    Mrs Foster says that she and Martin McGuinness had agreed a plan to sort of the public mess of the RHI scheme in December 2016 but that all went out the window after the interview.

    "We were then on a trajectory to the assembly collapsing and the executive collapsing."

  9. 'Bell pressed nuclear button with BBC Nolan interview'

    Jonathan Bell was "trying to paint himself as the victim" in his explosive interview with the BBC's Stephen Nolan in December 2016, according to Arlene Foster.

    She says a "paranoia had set in" with Mr Bell that the DUP was trying to blame him but that was "not the case".

    He tried to make out that he'd been "in some way bullied by me" but that was "complete nonsense", she adds.

    Jonathan Bell

    She says he "decided to press the nuclear button" by giving his interview to the BBC and that was done "in a fashion that contributed to the breakdown" of the Northern Ireland Assembly.

    Mrs Foster says she had "no sight" of what Mr Bell was alleging before she gave a subsequent interview to Mr Nolan.

    It was a "balancing act" about whether or not to give the interview, she adds, but the DUP decided that "we shouldn't allow Jonathan to go on air without challenging what he had to say".

  10. 'I was at end of my tether with Bell'

    In his email to Arlene Foster in March 2016, Jonathan Bell said he had "major issues" with DUP personnel and advisers and said he'd been told of claims that the RHI scheme was "kept open to accommodate a family member".

    Mrs Foster forwarded the email to DUP's deputy leader Nigel Dodds (below) with the note: "I'm at the end of my tether with this individual."

    Arlene Foster and Nigel Dodds

    She says Mr Bell wanted a one-to-one meeting with her but she was "very uncomfortable about that given his previous behaviour".

    In the end, Mr Bell had the meeting with Mr Dodds and DUP MP Gregory Campbell.

  11. 'Some written evidence doesn't fit with Bell's testimony'

    David Scoffield QC refers to an email Jonathan Bell sent to Arlene Foster in March 2016 - inquiry panellist Dr Keith MacLean intervenes to observe that Mr Bell sent this email from his Hotmail account.

    An email inbox

    It's not the first time we've heard about that email account - in a previous hearing Mr Bell told the inquiry he did not use it for work purposes.

    "I think we need to go back to Mr Bell on that because some of the written material we've seen doesn't appear to sit easily with what he said in his oral testimony," says Mr Scoffield.

  12. 'Two-week delay to RHI shutdown cost £92m'

    New figures show that the final two-week delay in shutting down the RHI scheme led to a spike in applications that is estimated to cost £91.5m over 20 years.

    It was the DUP and Sinn Féin that agreed to the delay and Arlene Foster says that "we have to take that on the chin".

    There was a "big rush" from people to get signed up in that time, says inquiry counsel David Scoffield, with a total of 298 applications approved between 15 and 29 February.

    Sterling banknotes

    The figures were given to the inquiry recently by Stormont's economy department.

    The two main Stormont parties agreed the extension to the scheme to allow more people to apply but Mrs Foster says no figures were put to them as to how much it would end up costing.

    "We took the decision on the basis of what was before us at the time."

  13. 'DUP adviser who'd applied to RHI should've left key meeting'

    DUP adviser Stephen Brimstone (below) - who was serving Arlene Foster - says he told her in January 2016 that he had applied to the RHI scheme several months before.

    "As an adviser to the first minister I felt I should make her aware," he says in his witness statement to the inquiry.

    He attended the meeting on 9 February 2016 at which the future of the scheme was being discussed.

    Stephen Brimstone

    Asked if it was appropriate for him to be at it, Mrs Foster says "it would've been better if he'd stepped out".

    "There was at least a perceived conflict of interest... he'd already applied to the scheme and therefore had no interest in the closure."

    Mr Brimstone will have his say when he appears at the inquiry tomorrow.

  14. 'RHI kept open to allow completion of applications'

    On the afternoon of 9 February 2016, Arlene Foster had her fortnightly meeting with deputy first minster Martin McGuinness and senior officials.

    The RHI scheme was at the top of the agenda and Sir Malcolm McKibbin, the head of the civil service, briefed the ministers about the strongly negative reaction to the announcement of its closure.

    A biomass boiler

    Mrs Foster says those objecting at the announcement thought it had been made "in an underhand way".

    The minutes of the meeting show it was agreed that the scheme should be kept open to allow for the completion of applications already in progress.

  15. 'Bell came into meeting with very bad temper'

    There was a tense meeting between Jonathan Bell and Arlene Foster at Stormont's Parliament Buildings on 9 February 2016 - Mr Bell claimed that during it the DUP leader "ordered" him to keep the RHI scheme open.

    He told the inquiry at the start of this month that he argued "as passionately as I could" for the closure of the RHI scheme but Mrs Foster was "highly agitated and angry".

    Stormont's Parliament Buildings

    But Mrs Foster's view is different - she says he "came into the room in very bad temper" and "stood with his chest pushed out and was shouting".

    She says Mr Bell's "temper" in the meeting was because, having already announced the closure of the scheme four days earlier, he "didn't want to look foolish" at having to do a u-turn after the outrage that decision had provoked.

    She also claims that she told him she "didn't like the reports that I was getting back" in relation to his "behaviour" on a trade mission to Canada the previous weekend.

  16. 'I didn't see adviser's attempt to win brownie points'

    One of the big allegations made by Jonathan Bell in relation to the RHI scandal was that a DUP adviser had tried to "cleanse the record" of references to Arlene Foster in an official documents.

    His adviser Tim Cairns admitted to the inquiry that he removed a reference in a paper from February 2015.

    The original document stated that the decision to close the scheme had been reached after Mr Bell had discussions with the first minister and the finance minister.

    The changed document stated that Mr Bell had made the decision without consultation with other ministers but that was not true.

    A man working on a computer

    Mr Cairns said he'd done it to win brownie points with Mrs Foster because his position as a DUP adviser at the time "probably wasn't secure" and he felt he was in line to be replaced.

    As far as Mrs Foster is concerned the change had "no import whatsoever" and she says that Mr Cairns' explanation for doing it doesn't hold water.

    "I've heard his reason was to curry favour with me and to get brownie points but the reality is I didn't see this submission so I wouldn't have known that he had taken any reference... out."

  17. 'Everybody outraged when RHI closure annonced'

    Both the DUP and Sinn Féin wanted the RHI scheme to be shut down "as quickly as possible", says Arlene Foster, but there were some factors to keep in mind.

    She says lawyers outlined the potential for a judicial review if it was closed too quickly, given that some people had invested in biomass boilers "in good faith" but may not have got them registered on the scheme in time.

    Burning wood pellets

    There was also a "huge reaction" from individuals, businesses and even the National Trust when Jonathan Bell had prematurely announced the closure on 5 February.

    "Everybody seemed to be outraged by the fact that the scheme was closing so we had to balance all of those things in the mix as well," adds the DUP leader.

  18. 'We knew RHI was serious and wanted it closed'

    Jonathan Bell has told the inquiry that he wasn't told that his approval for the closure of the RHI scheme had been overruled.

    He also said that his decision was impeded without proper authority and he claimed that Arlene Foster and her DUP adviser Timothy Johnston had been working to keep the scheme open.

    Jonathan Bell

    Mrs Foster, unsurprisingly, disagrees: "It clearly wasn't the case that we wanted to keep the scheme open.

    "We knew of the seriousness of it and we wanted to close the scheme."

  19. 'Advisers operated brokerage system in executive's top office'

    Arlene Foster gives an insight into the internal workings of the Office of the First and deputy First Minster as it operated under the DUP and Sinn Féin.

    She explains that under a process known as "brokerage" the advisers from the two parties worked on the submissions sent up to the ministers in order to reach a mutually acceptable response.

    Stormont's Parliament Buildings

    "So it's the common view reached by the non-representative [advisers]?" asks Sir Patrick.

    Mrs Foster says the view acceptable to both parties is then sent to the first and deputy first ministers to sign.